Presidential Address - November 2017
10 months, 2 weeks ago
Presidential Address by The Bishop of Croydon, The Rt Revd Jonathan Clark
An International Issue
65.6 million – the population of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, approximately. These whole islands, every person, on the move – to somewhere they can find safety.
A National Issue - but not quite in the way you might think.
In 12 months up to Sept 2018, UK admitted 7708 asylum seekers - about 4% of the total resettled worldwide. (Refugee Council Quarterly Stats)
There are an estimated 119,000 refugees living in the UK. That's just 0.18 per cent of the total population (65.1 million people) – less than 2 out of every 1000 people. 86% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries.
But – we know what a big issue it is. One survey found that people believed UK was taking in ¼ of refugees worldwide. Huge gap between perception and reality – real anxiety and fear often generated by that perception. 92% of UK news items on asylum and migration neither identify an individual refugee or migrant nor include their voice or experience.
Our Issue as Christians
Our issue now
Matthew 25.34 ‐ 36 welcoming the stranger
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Archbishop John Sentamu’s story
I am a former Sanctuary seeker. It’s something I don’t usually write or speak about very often. It’s not that I am embarrassed about my sanctuary seeking past or lack deep gratitude to the country that received me I am and always will be grateful to this country for its compassionate heart and generosity of spirit - but the begrudging grant of an entry visa is not the same as a warm embrace. As a nation we must not only welcome more people but we should also be more welcoming as a people. My own life is testimony that this country is more than able to do both.
Our issue for the future
The missionary purpose of the Church is inextricably linked to the missio Dei, God’s purpose for the world. The missio Dei is bound up with the long term future of human beings, the creation of conditions for human freedom and flourishing which lead to ‘life abundant’ (John 10.10). So the mission perspective requires us to ask questions about the ‘other side’ of the current crisis when the refugees have dropped out of sight of public attention. It is an important matter of mission that we come to a strategic focus on the better life that migrants and refugees hope for. So we have to ask some practical and theological questions and these are explored below, along with suggestions for appropriate and sustainable action. Such questions include:
What does God want for a world facing a crisis like this?
What kind of future does God want for victims of war and violence?
How can Christians provide a narrative in public space which recovers refugees and migrants as human beings, highlighting their stories, and addressing their long ‐ term needs and futures?
What fears and concerns do people living in this country have about migrants and refugees and how can those be addressed seriously?
What long term issues do migrants and refugees have which need our ongoing help and support?
Our issue as a diocese
Since the surge of refugees into mainland Europe in 2015, churches throughout the Diocese have continued their mission to support destitute asylum seekers, while others have become more intentional in their acts of service to ease the suffering of internationally displaced refugees, such as those stranded in the former Jungle camp in Calais, those in the Balkan states and those in camps neighbouring Syria.
The Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (JPIC) department was commissioned in November 2015, and in the first year of this department’s work, there was an immediate focus on identifying ways that the Diocese could strengthen its support for both refugees and domestic asylum seekers. In 2017, the department produced Guidance notes on Refugees with three main recommendations:
(1) One Diocesan property in each Episcopal area be identified and used for housing a refugee family in partnership with a local authority participating in the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS is the governments initiative) or a parish interested in becoming community sponsors (based on the Canadian model of mobilising community groups to take an active role in the resettlement of refugees).
(2) The Diocese sets-up an overarching body responsible for overseeing the work of parishes undertaking community sponsorship as part of their missional activity. This would offer oversight, as well as ensure that parishes have access to support from the Diocese, and in particularly the safeguarding team.
(3) The Diocese strengthens its capacity for parishes to access resources, information and advice on issues affecting refugees and asylum seekers (specifically failed asylum seekers with no recourse to public funds).
- Thus far, under item (1) one property in the Woolwich Episcopal area is being used by a local authority participating in the VPRS (the family have arrived and are settled in their new environment), and churches nearby have been involved in supporting the integration of this family. Another Diocesan property in the Kingston Episcopal area has been converted for the use of three asylum seeker families.
- Under item (2), the diocese has now employed a part-time refugee co-ordinator, and her work will be to help establish the co-ordinating group, support parishes formulate their refugee response, and collate data on the different missional activities undertaken by churches to support refugees and asylum seekers.
- Under item (3), in May 2017, the JPIC department organised and delivered an event at Oasis Church entitled ‘Yes You Can!’ The event was open to all parishes in the Diocese, and was delivered in partnership with GoodFaith Partnership, Social Finance, Church Response for Refugees, Housing Justice, Refugee Council, Oasis UK, Christian Aid, and Citizens UK. The event comprised of interactive workshops designed to encourage interested groups to see that there’s something for everyone – from the smallest activity (writing a letter to your local MP) to the large (community sponsorship). To complement this, the department organised and delivered a complementary event in July 2017 entitled ‘In Plain Sight!’ with a focus on modern slavery. The event was delivered in partnership with the Clewer Initiative, with speakers from: Gangmasters Labour and Abuse Authority (GLAA), National Crimes Agency, Medaille Trust, Metropolitan Police, Stop the Traffik, Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (AFRUCA), and Freedom United. The event sought to shed light on the issue and demonstrate how vulnerable groups, including asylum seekers with no recourse to public funds can fall victim to organised criminal activities exploiting vulnerable people.
Parishes throughout the Diocese continue to support refugees and asylum seekers in various capacities.
- A number of churches in the Kingston area are actively involved with the civil society group - Citizens UK, and have lobbied for their local authority to accept refugees. In boroughs like Lambeth were this has been immensely successful, churches and schools are involved in providing soft wrap around care for families, including St Gabriel’s College, St Mathews Brixton, St John the Divine, Kennington, and St John’s Angell Town, Holy Spirit, Clapham and much more.
- St John’s Angell Town, primary school, welcomed and gave gifts to the 11 new Syrian families in the borough of Lambeth.
- Holy Spirit, Clapham through their involvement with Citizens UK have been actively involved in offering a host of services to the refugee families in Lambeth. In 2016, the church hosted a party for the families, and have since been providing practical support, such as befriending, and organising fundraising activities to meet the needs of the new arrivals. In 2017, they arranged a operatic evening, with singers from Syria.
- The Refugee Council in partnership with Siriol Davies the diocesan Interfaith Adviser organised and delivered an interfaith cricket match between the Diocesan Cricket team and young Afghan refugees.
- Herne Hill, Saint Saviours – through their work with Citizens UK hosted the Herne Hill Welcomes Refugees meeting at the church. At this public meeting with over 50 in attendance, the group outlined their plans to resettle Syrian refugee families through community sponsorship in the area. Though this church is interregnum at present, the laity have been at the forefront in leading the refugees’ welcomes programme.
- All Saints, West Dulwich – through their work with Citizens UK have been actively involved with the work being done Safe passage.
- Immanuel & St Andrew, Streatham – collected delivered goods to refugees in Calais.
- Churches in this area are also actively involved with Citizens UK including, St Saviours Brockley and the Downham Team ministry. In the borough of Lewisham, Citizens have successfully campaigned for the local authority to participate in VPRS, and have been working with faith groups to identify landlords to offer their property at Local Housing Allowance rate (LHA).
- St Margaret’s Lee have also been involved in working with Citizens, the Single Homeless Project (SHP) and Lewisham council to settle recently arrived Syrian families in the borough. They hosted a successful language programme over the summer and were given grant funding from the Bishop of Woolwich’s All Churches Fund for further work with Syrian refugees. Through this work, the parish have also adopted a Syrian family, and actively involved providing soft wrap-around care, such as personal support/befriending, and collecting donations/items for the families.
- Elevate (a project in Lewisham) have been working alongside St Margaret’s, and have been using the church’s crypt to provide employment support, pastoral care, English classes and specialist advice to refugees.
- The Good Shepherd with St Peter, Lee through their partnership with the local charity Action For Refugees in Lewisham (AFRIL) run a weekly foodbank for destitute asylum seekers. This project offers the most destitute families a weekly supply of donated food items. The church also covers travel expenses to enable clients to get to the foodbank, provide refreshments and have bought shopping trolleys to enable clients to take the food home.
- In the Greenwich/Charlton Area Churches such as those in the East Greenwich Team ministry have successfully lobbied for Greenwich Council to accept refugees, and one of the clergy is hosting an asylum seeker.
- Croydon North Deanery are actively involved with Citizens UK, and during the arrival of unaccompanied minors at Lunar House, St Michael’s Croydon offered their spaces and volunteers to help with the process of registration and interacting with the minors.
- The Croydon Refugee Day Centre also incorporates the involvement of churches in the area to help with its operation.
- All Saints Sanderstead are exploring becoming community sponsors. Revd Jeremy Groombridge and the team are keen to undertake this missional activity, and are in communication with Citizens UK to lobby the council to participate in the VPRS.
- Reigate Deanery are actively involved in supporting Syrian refugees resettled in Reigate and Banstead District.
- St Mary Addiscombe hosts Young Roots, an organisation run by and for young asylum seekers and refugees.
Additional Challenges /Areas of Interest in the Diocese
- Increasingly, parishes have expressed an interest in addressing the exorbitant cost assigned to citizenship fees, and Thamesmead Team Ministry will be hosting a discussion group specifically looking at the challenges associated with this. Other churches interested in work in this area include Holy Trinity, Tulse Hill and Christ Church Gypsy Hill.
- St Barnabas Dulwich through their affiliation with Citizens UK have expressed the need to address some of the immigration challenges faced by young people, who are given temporary leave to remain as minors, however, when these children reach age 18, many are targeted by the UK Boarder Agency (including schools) to be deported. Due to the lack of legal Aid, parents are under financial constraints to cover the cost of immigration lawyers. Often the additional challenge faced by some, such as those from Afghanistan is that their home countries are deemed to be safe, yet in reality these children have spent a significant proportion of their lives in the UK. Much more work therefore needs to be done to raise awareness of this issue amongst church schools through the Diocesan Board of Education.
- The JPIC department has to-date been dealing with ad hoc request from churches on immigration/housing advice for destitute asylum seekers, as well as request for language specific immigration lawyers. The Diocese recognises that this area of work requires resource, thus resulting in the appointment of Mrs Joanne McCrone, the new part-time Refugee Response Co-ordinator, within the JPIC department.
Actions for this Synod
Motion to be discussed in March for forwarding to G Synod to ask dioceses to help refugees with professional qualifications go through processes to have their skills recognised and registered in the UK.
God, no one is a stranger to you, and no one is ever far from your loving care. In your kindness watch over migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, those separated from their loved ones, those who are lost and those who have been exiled from their homes. Bring them to a place of safety and security, and help us always to show your kindness to strangers and those in need.
We ask this through Christ our Lord, who was a refugee and migrant, who travelled to another land searching for a home. Amen